As the five-time Tony Award-winning Matilda the Musical enters its final months here on Broadway and with the recent new addition of Bryce Ryness to the cast as the infamously cruel headmistress Agatha Trunchbull, we decided to revisit this adored British import to see if that Roald Dahl magic is still in abundance at the Shubert Theatre. The answer, I’m happy to say, is a resounding “Yes, maggots!”
With Steven Spielberg’s big movie release of ‘The BFG’ this summer, it doesn’t look like our fascination with Dahl is diminishing any time soon. Indeed, the London production of ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ will also hit the Great White Way in a re-booted version for American audiences next spring, starring two-time Tony winner Christian Borle as the eccentric Willy Wonka. And whilst the West End’s production of Matilda is still playing to packed houses in its open-ended run, a movie adaptation is also rumoured to be in development.
So what is it about this show in particular that delights theatregoers young and old and has enabled such a lengthy run on Broadway? There are a few times in life when a creative team is put together and everything just seems to click. You have beloved source material from an author who continues to stand the test of time in a rapidly evolving world, you have some of the most entertainingly clever lyrics and a beautiful mix of light and dark melodies from the supremely talented comic composer Tim Minchin, and a Tony-winning book by Dennis Kelly, packed with universal gags and a clear message to young ones (and the young-at-heart) in the audience. Then there is the piece-de-resistance – the ingenious Tony-winning scenic design by Rob Howell (who also provides those wonderfully cartoonish costumes). There is so much for the eye to feast upon in this set, which bursts with originality. The whole stage is surrounded by children’s lettered building blocks and the scene changes seem to evolve organically with the blocks included into each set. (They spell out words such as “Silence” and “Quiet” in the Library scenes, for example). The mis-en-scene is nothing short of creative genius and, for my money, is one of the main reasons this musical is a standout in recent musical theatre history.
Then you have the actors. Some of the most talented kids on Broadway are on display at the Shubert Theatre… perhaps only matched by their ‘School of Rock’ chums at the Winter Garden. The four young ladies who originated the role of Matilda took home a special Tony Award for Excellence in Theatre and I only wish that every young actress who successfully pulls off this part would be equally rewarded. Stealing the show is, of course, Miss Trunchbull herself – who has become one of musical theatre’s most fearsome (and beloved) antagonists. Played now with terrific comic timing and physicality by Bryce Ryness, she is the backbone of the piece and an instant crowd favourite. Whether she is swinging a child around by her pigtails or force-feeding another a mountain of chocolate cake, you can’t help but be fascinated by this ‘woman.’
If you haven’t yet seen this modern Broadway classic (well, where have you been, stinkworm?!), then I urge you to get down to the Shubert Theatre before 1st January 2017. As for me, I’m gonna sit back and cross my fingers that the big screen adaptation won’t be far behind.
"Even more glorious than we were promised."
Ben Brantley for New York Times
"Spiky and lavishly inventive."
Joe Dziemianowicz for New York Daily News
"Treat for ears and eyes, brain and heart, the glorious “Matilda” has it all."
Elisabeth Vincentelli for New York Post
"It’s built to dazzle, and it does."
Erik Haagensen for Back Stage
"With its pizazz, humor, style, intelligence and all-around entertainment quotient, "Matilda" is, far and away, the best new musical I’ve seen this season."
Robert Feldberg for The Record
"Broadway can add yet another blockbuster to its roster of kid-friendly shows."
Roma Torre for NY1
"A frequently entertaining musical.
Michael Sommers for Newsroom Jersey
"Dazzlingly inventive musical."
David Rooney for The Hollywood Reporter
"An explosion of joy, the most exhilarating and flat-out best musical since 'Billy Elliot.'"
David Benedict for Variety
External links to full reviews from popular press...